SEC report:

Georgia, LSU come up for air

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
LSU guard Anthony Hickey (1) pushes past Mississippi State guard Trivante Bloodman (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. LSU won 69-68. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Photo by The Associated Press
LSU guard Anthony Hickey (1) pushes past Mississippi State guard Trivante Bloodman (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. LSU won 69-68. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

— Georgia and LSU, the teams that got off to the worst starts in SEC play, have rallied in the past couple of weeks to reach the middle of the conference pack.

Georgia’s 67-56 victory at South Carolina on Saturday gave the Bulldogs four victories in their past five games after an 0-3 league start and pulled them into a tie for sixth with Arkansas.

The Bulldogs are holding opponents to 55.8 points per game in a five-game stretch.

“We’re feeling good.

There’s a lot of confidence going around,” Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Saturday’s victory.

Caldwell-Pope has led Georgia in scoring in all but two games and is second in the SEC with 17.5 points per game.

LSU (3-5) has won three of its past four after an 0-4 start that included home losses to Auburn and South Carolina. Guard Anthony Hickey scored seven of his 12 points in the last 46.7 seconds, including a high arcing game-winner from the lane with 1.5 seconds remaining in the Tigers’ 69-68 victory at Mississippi State on Saturday.

Hickey blew past Trivante Bloodman and Roquez Johnson to move into position for his game winning shot.

“Get to the rack,” Hickey told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “I usually settle for a jump shot, but I took Coach’s advice for a change.”Circus antic

Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin of Sylvan Hills converted a memorable three-point play in the Wildcats’ 72-68 victory at Texas A&M on Saturday.

Goodwin drove the middle of the lane, smashed into Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, double-pumped and threw up a shot behind his head with his back to the basket. The ball hit the front of the rim and had just enough spin to trickle through the basket.

Goodwin, on his way to a nine-point game, converted the free throw.

Six-game slides

Auburn and Mississippi State got out to surprising 2-0 SEC starts that included road upsets of South Carolina and Georgia, respectively. Not so surprisingly, they have each lost six consecutive games to drop to the bottom of the standings.

“We’re trying to find a way to get out of this funk that we’re in,” Auburn Coach Tony Barbee said.

“We just have to hope that our older guys are leading the younger guys as we go through this fog.”12th Noel

Mississippi decided to drive the ball into Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel last week, and the freshman made them pay with a school-record 12 blocked shots in the Wildcats’ 87-74 victory that gave the Rebels their first SEC loss.

Noel, who broke Kentucky’s previous record of nine blocked shots, had six of his blocks after picking up his fourth foul with 9:52 remaining. The 6-10 freshman missed his only shot.

“Defense is something that’s undervalued,” he told the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. “It can change a whole game in significant ways. ... On nights like that, you have to take 100 percent pride in your defense and do the best for your team and find a way to be effective no matter what.”

Noel, who leads the nation with 4.62 blocked shots per game, won SEC freshman of the week honors by following up his record-breaking game with a 19-point, 14-rebound performance against Texas A&M.

Close calls

If Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings had more hair on his head he might be pulling it out after the Commodores lost their games to Tennessee and Alabama by a combined five points.

“We’re a near-miss team right now,” Stallings said on Monday’s SEC teleconference. “We get in position to win games and we just don’t close them out. That’s been very disappointing and it’s happened to us three or four times in league play already.”

The Commodores could use an improvement in their 59.6 percent free-throw shooting, which ranks No.

339 among the 345 Division I teams.

NCAA picks

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports included four SEC teams in his latest NCAA Tournament projection.

Palm’s choices and their projected tournament seeds: Florida (2), Missouri (7), Ole Miss (7) and Kentucky (11). Palm listed Alabama, which has won six of its past seven games, as one of his first four out of the field.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s latest projection: Florida (1), Ole Miss (7), Missouri (8) and Kentucky (10). Alabama is among his second group of four that didn’t make the cut.

Game of the week

FLORIDA AT ARKANSAS , 6 P.M. TONIGHT (ESPN)

The Gators have won their eight conference games by an average of 26.5 points , while Arkansas has won its last 10 home games by an average of 19.7 points. Can the Razorbacks be the first SEC team to solve Florida?

Quotable

“We hit them on a bad night. From my memory, it just seems like they hit everything last year. But we don’t forget, and we’ll be ready to play.”

Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar, on Florida’s 98-68 victory over the Razorbacks in

Walton Arena last Feb. 18

By the numbers

2 Number of SEC teams in the Associated Press top 25 poll: No. 2 Florida and No. 21 Missouri

3 SEC teams without a conference road victory: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee

6 Consecutive losses for Auburn and Mississippi State after their 2-0 starts in SEC play

14 Missouri’s winning streak at Mizzou Arena, where the Tigers are 79-4 since the 2008-2009 season

TODAY’S GAMES All times Central

Florida at Arkansas, 6 p.m.

South Carolina at Kentucky, 8 p.m.

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES

Alabama at Auburn, 7 p.m.

Georgia at Tennessee, 7 p.m Vanderbilt at LSU, 7 p.m.

Mississippi State at Mississippi, 8 p.m.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Missouri at Texas A&M, 8 p.m.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Mississippi at Missouri, noon

Arkansas at Vanderbilt, 12:30 p.m.

Auburn at Kentucky, 3 p.m.

Mississippi State at Florida, 4 p.m.

Texas A&M at Georgia, 4 p.m.

LSU at Alabama, 7 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAME

Tennessee at South Carolina, noon

Sports, Pages 22 on 02/05/2013

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